Sunday, January 7, 2007

A Totalitarian Tableau

The frail, middle-aged man splayed awkwardly on the ground in the middle of this photograph is Tufts historian Felipe Fernandez-Armesto. On Friday, while attending the annual conference of the American Historical Association, the former Oxford don was arrested and assaulted by several police officers after committing the grievous offense of jaywalking.

"I come from a country where you can cross the road where you like," Fernandez-Armesto later recounted in a videotaped interview. (Follow this link, scroll down, and you'll find that interview.) Earlier in the day, the mild-mannered professor ("nebbishy" would be a suitable term) had seen scores of people crossing the street between the Hyatt and Hilton hotels, displaying complete indifference to the crosswalks.

Jaywalking is the proverbial trivial offense; Steve Martin once extorted laughs from the ludicrous suggestion that the crime rate could be dramatically reduced by making it a capital crime. It is perhaps the best example of a malum prohibitum -- an act made illegal only by a posivitist law, as opposed to a malum in se, or a crime against the natural law (meaning an offense against persons or property).

Professor Fernandez-Armesto certainly had no intention to violate the law, since he is "pathologically law-abiding ... it is alien to my nature to transgress the law, especially as a guest in this country."

Like altogether too many people, Fernandez-Armesto made the mistake of assuming that the function of the police under our current regime is to protect individuals and maintain decent order. Thus when a young man wearing a "bomber jacket" yelled at him not to cross the road in the middle of the street, the professor ignored the admonition. After all, peace officers are supposed to make themselves conspicuous, aren't they?

After the officer accosted the professor, he was infuriated when asked to produce identification -- a reasonable and rational request.

"I think I caused the young policeman offense," recalled the historian. "He didn't take kindly" to the request, angrily insisting that as a "policeman on duty he wasn't obliged to show me identification" -- which could only be true if his credentials were visible, which they weren't.

The officer then demanded identification from Fernandez-Armesto, who -- naively believing that the United States remains a relatively free society, rather than one in which the directive "Your Papers, Please" is becoming ubiquitous. Not anticipating an encounter with an armed representative of the State, the professor had left his hotel room without his papers.

On this pretext, he recalled, he was "subjected to terrible, terrible violence."

"This young man kicked my legs out from under me, wrenching me around in what I think was a sort of Judo move," recalled Fernandez-Armesto.

You just know that this young uniformed thug had been lusting and aching to try that move; what better uke could he hope for than an ectomorphic, bespectacled, middle-aged history professor?

After attacking the unresisting professor, our Hero in Blue called for backup, and a half-dozen of his colleagues raced to the scene, helping to pin the hapless and terrified academic to the ground. The traumatized professor's body was left a "mass of contusions" -- but that was not the most serious injury inflicted upon him.

"One of the more professional of the policemen who assaulted me told me that they really now had to continue with the process, because if they admitted their mistake, I would be able to sue the City of Atlanta."

Consider that logic for just a second.

If you are an armed agent of the State, and you needlessly arrest and physically assault an innocent individual, your duty is not to see that the victim receives redress, but to protect your employer from liability.

In this case, Atlanta's Finest -- who were temporarily out of elderly women to use for lethal target practice -- hauled Professor Fernandez-Armesto down to a detention center, where he spent more than eight hours incarcerated with people accused of actual criminal offenses. Booked on charges of jaywalking, failure to obey a police officer, and obstruction of justice, the professor was confronted with a demand for $1,371.00 in bail -- a sum that is facially "unreasonable."

During his time in jail, the professor spoke at length with the other inmates, and found that they were, "on the whole, much better-mannered than the police."

The representatives of the Thin Blue Line responsible for his ordeal, commented Fernandez-Armesto, exhibited what he was tempted to call "hominid values -- except that would be an injustice to hominids."

By professor Fernandez-Armesto's reckoning, this guy would be over-qualified to serve on the Atlanta Police Force.

During his ordeal -- the arrest, detention, and court hearing that followed -- the professor was "tortured inside by the fear I'd end up with a criminal conviction," which would mean the failure of his Green Card application and the loss of his livelihood.

Fortunately, the Judge who heard his case was able to arrange with the prosecution to dismiss the matter.

Welcome to George W. Bush's Amerika, Professor Fernandez-Armesto. In a way, you could consider yourself fortunate: If the Feds had wanted to recruit you as an intelligence asset, you might have ended up like Jose Padilla.

As a result of more than two years of undergoing sensory deprivation, psychological and physical torture, and (allegedly) the use of psychoactive drugs at the hands of his captors, Padilla "is so mentally damaged that he is unable to assist in his own defense," his defense counsel and two psychologists informed NPR. The putative "enemy combatant" by presidential decree "is so passive and fearful now ... that he is `like a piece of furniture.'"

"Even at this late stage, after dozens of meetings with his lawyers, Padilla suspects that they are government agents, says Andrew Patel, who is on the legal team," continues the NPR report. "Padilla may believe that the lawyers assigned to represent him are in fact `part of a continuing interrogation program.'"

The Regime, for its part, does not dispute the "particulars" of abuse and torture compiled by Padilla's defense team; it "maintains that whatever happened to Padilla during his detention is irrelevant, since no information obtained during that time is being used in the criminal case against him."

This is kindred to the argument used by the Atlanta police to justify arresting Fernandez-Armesto: In that case, the police had to book him on multiple criminal charges -- even if he had done nothing to justify that treatment -- to protect themselves from a lawsuit; in Padilla's case, the Feds claim that they were free to abuse Padilla, because the torture didn't result in evidence of his guilt.

Most chilling of all in the case of Jose Padilla is the closing observation in NPR's report:

"Indeed, there are even some within the government who think it might be best if Padilla were declared incompetent and sent to a psychiatric prison facility. As one high-ranking official put it, `the objective of the government always has been to incapacitate this person.'"

The point bears repeating:

Just as Fernandez-Armesto was arrested to protect the City of Atlanta from a lawsuit, the mind of Jose Padilla -- who was seized and detained on a presidential whim -- was deliberately destroyed simply to protect the Regime.

While it's difficult to identify a precise point at which a society ceases to be free and becomes a despotism, one good definition of the latter would be this: A despotism exists when agents of the State can arrest you without cause, steal your property under color of official authority, kill you without consequence, torture you with impunity, and deprive you of your sanity simply for grins and giggles.

"Are we there yet?"

We've been "there" for a while.

(Thanks to The Free World Informer for the closing illustration, and to Wendy McElroy at Lew Rockwell's blog for tipping us off to Professor Fernandez-Armesto's story.)


Warren said...

I've been coming to the realization that GW isn't the progenitor of our ills. But rather he is a symptom of a society that has, for the most part, unchained itself from morality and common sense. Sadly, and I'm certainly not the judge here, but many Christians were led to believe that GW was 'one of us' and that he would fix things... Well, someone once said that 'they will know you by your fruits'. If the fruit is war and torture and death than what was sown must have been deceit and immorality and apathy. If he is the leader that we have, then we more than likely deserved him. Israel always got the leader that they asked for, why would we be any different?

As Will said a few days ago, it is time for repentance in a big way.

Anonymous said...

Contempt of Cop has been around as long as there have been cops with something to prove to themselves. I think it has something to do with having their books knocked out of their hands and lunch money stolen on a daily basis. So it seems like big bad Johnny Law had to show what he had.

I'll go out on a limb and say he has been punched, kicked, and spat upon more than most of his co-workers. Some just ask for - and deserve - every kick in the groin they receive.

Without proper supervision a clown like this is capable of destroying many lives before he is stopped.

There had to be witnesses on such a busy street. Where are they when the professor needs them? They'd sure help him if he was to file a suit.

Comrade O'Brien said...

Attention Comrades!
Please visit to learn about our creative protest of the Military Commissions Act. - we're sending a copy of 1984 to everyone who voted for it.

rick said...


what you said is rather striking. my sister was saying the exact same thing about why some police officers abuse the people. it's their chance to: make people listen to them; and to feel in charge for once because when younger, they suffered at the hands of someone else. it may all go back to these people's youth and what they suffered during that time.

i like the part where the guy asked for ID (DL). me, i might have been a smart alek and said, "sorry officer, but i don't need a DL to cross a street".

zchris63 said...

I never carry ID when out walking or biking, primarily because I don't want it to get stolen by ID thieves should I be mugged or robbed, and so the robber won't know which residence my keys unlock.

Anonymous said...


You said:

i like the part where the guy asked for ID (DL). me, i might have been a smart alek and said, "sorry officer, but i don't need a DL to cross a street".

The best response is something like, "I'm sorry officer. Did I do something wrong? Am I under arrest or being detained?"

His response MIGHT make it clear to all involved what is happeninig. For if he is detaining you for the purpose of issuing a citation or restricting your freedom of movement to investigate potential criminal activity, you have to stay put. But ID is only needed to investigate a crime or initiate a proceeding (although I've heard of intrusive laws in some states requiring the carrying of some type of ID). Nevertheless, practicing some cool judo move one learned in a movie or on the internet isn't called for.

What seems to be the issue here is a tough guy being frustrated by someone he considers to be a threat to his fragile ego. Consider it a knee-jerk reaction of a uniformed biped facing something he believes is challenging him.

Was it Thomas Jefferson who said "Believe none of what you hear and half of what you see"? With that in mind, I always wait for more evidence. On the surface, this appears to be yet another abuse of authority. Is there more to the story? I don't know. I'm staying tuned.

Anonymous said...

Ever consider that some pretentious poofter acting superior to a plainly conspicuous officer (wearing a raid jacket that was emblazoned with "POLICE"), after being warned repeatedly to not cross at that point for his own safety and that of others, just MIGHT not be the completely innocent and righteous academe he lays himself out to be?

I deal with indivifuals of his ilk altogether too often. They consider themselves the arbiters of what is right and decent, and take extreme umbrage when they have to submit to that part of society that pays their freight and keeps them in a position to espouse their views unfettered by truly totalitarian regimes.

He and his mostly unwashed defenders are welcome to not visit Atlanta, or any other part of the US again, if it offends them so. I note with more than a little irony that his greatest concern was the loss of his green card.

Although history is said to be written by winners, historians themselves tend to be whores and self-absorbed fools, and Felipe Fernandez-Armesto has done nothing other than reinforce this all-too-true observation

William N. Grigg said...

Thank you for your comments, so boldly and anonymously offered.

Here's one thing I can't understand about your take on this incident:

Why did the heroic off-duty cop require the aid of a small platoon of his comrades to subdue one middle-aged "pretentious poofter"?

As to the question of righteousness and innocence, when I see someone on the ground surrounded by bullies, my symapthies are with the victim, not the assailants. And as a matter of law, the professor IS innocent, since the charges were thrown out.

Your passionate, if poorly focused, riff on Orwell's line about the "Uniforms that Guard" leaves us with the impression that wrestling jaywalkers to the ground is somehow connected to keeping our shores free of the foreign menace du jour.

For what it's worth, I'm sure that "logic" plays well among the reality-aversive denizens of and the rest of that ilk.

And I'd like to highlight the portion of your comment that reinforces a point I've made here often -- you know, the line about how those damned eeen-tul-LEC-chuls "take extreme umbrage when they have to submit to that part of society that pays their freight...."

Leave aside, for the nonce, the seething class resentment at work here (good grief, are we talking about Morlocks and Eloi here?) and focus instead on the key word: SUBMIT.

This professor was kicked to the ground and assaulted by a knot of Atlanta's Finest because he wasn't adequately SUBMISSIVE. This had NOTHING to do with picayune violations of silly pedestrian regulations.

And the only "danger" this visitor (that's how well-mannered, law-abiding foreigners among us are described by those of us who don't suifer from xenophobia) experienced was at the hands of the badge-wearing degenerate who -- like too many in his profession -- is in to softcore dominance games.

Police officers and military personnel are tax consumers. WE pay THEIR freight, as it were, in all but a relative handful of cases in which some of them pay a much higher price. We can be grateful when people who choose to serve us in those roles make sacrifices on our behalf -- but we must not forget who's the servant, and who's the master in this transaction.